Homestead High School senior Katherine Cao and her team were awarded $20,000 in the national finals of the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology on Dec. 6 in Washington, D.C.

Cao’s team won its regional in mid-November at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Six teams advanced from regionals to the finals, where awards ranged from $10,000 to $100,000.

Cao’s team includes two other students hailing from California and New York. Their collaborative project is entitled “Characterizing Novel, Spun-Cast PLA/Polystyrene Substrates of Differential Nanoscale Surface Topographies and Optimizing Cell-Plating Density to Promote Dental Pulp Stem Cell Proliferation and Differentiation in vitro.”

“Katie has been an outstanding student and leader at Homestead throughout her three-and-a-half years here, and it gives us a great deal of pride to see her do so well at a national level,” said Brett Bowers, principal of Homestead. “Katie deserves a lot of credit for all the hard work and dedication she has displayed throughout this competition.”

The team’s project examined new ways of controlling stem cells using biomaterials, even developing a new method that alters the surface topography on which dental pulp stems cells may be cultured. This allows cells to grow into bone and regenerate teeth.

Cao says her parents, who are both immigrants, inspired her to pursue research in this area because they have suffered from dental problems due to inadequate care and limited treatment options they experienced as children. She met her teammates through the Garcia Summer Program at Stony Brook University in New York.

As a student at Homestead, Cao’s favorite subject is chemistry, and she has served as varsity captain of the debate team and president of the school’s service club. She aims to embark on a career as an entrepreneur in the life sciences.

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